Last Sunday, Deputy President William Ruto declared that he had the remote control to stop reggae, attracting wild condemnation from proponents of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), who immediately accused him of overreaching himself.
It was no empty talk. The second in command has quietly been working on the project for some time now and a handler well versed in the guidebook told us that his boss is convinced that it is gaining traction. The aim is to scuttle BBI, especially the rallies, before the year ends.
“Kenya is not made up of ‘reggae’, marijuana and sorcery. I can assure you we shall stop reggae,” DP Ruto said at a church service in Khwisero, Kakamega County.
The strategy has been firmed up by his ‘war council’, which recently saw grounded academics brought on board in preparation for his presidential campaign. Leading voices such as Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen, Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri, Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria and Kikuyu MP Kimani Ichung’wa, among others, bring in their political acumen to the council.
It is a multi-pronged approach that involves action in the political arena as well as persuading his boss Uhuru Kenyatta to reconsider his rapprochement with his ‘handshake brother Raila Odinga’ and call off the rallies.
When Mr Murkomen and Mr Kuria staged a walkout at Kinoru stadium in Meru last weekend, it was not just a spur-of-the-moment act. It was by design; to puncture the hyped event in Mr Kenyatta’s bedrock that the DP hopes to inherit in the next polls.
To diehard supporters of Mr Odinga, that is tantamount to disrespect and triggers hostile reception.
In Mombasa, Mr Kuria was forced to sit on the ground to avoid being bundled out of the venue. After minutes of commotion, he was allowed entry to the main dais. The damage had been done in portraying the whole event as unaccommodative, contrary to what it seeks to achieve – unity.
For a while, the DP and his close associates chose to stay away from the rallies. But alarmed by the growing popularity and huge mobilisation largely spearheaded by the Interior ministry through the county commissioners, they are said to have made an about-turn before it got too late.
We also learnt from his handlers that the second in command initially wanted to attend the Meru rally but decided against it at the last minute.
The act would have meant that he speaks last going by the protocol, but ugly scenes were bound to occur since the ODM brigade that sees their leader as a co-principal with Mr Kenyatta in the BBI would have insisted on him addressing them last. It would have presented a serious security challenge.
Mr Ruto holds the view that BBI, especially public mobilisation, using ‘Nobody can stop reggae’ song by Lucky Dube as the rallying call, had plunged the country into campaign mode, yet the elections were more than two years away.
He charges that it is overshadowing the development agenda, and the President had better act before it is too late.
Dr Ruto was on such a mission at State House on February 3, when he met Mr Kenyatta for lunch. And because a number of rallies have been addressed by Mr Odinga alone, one may conclude that the President may not have bought the idea of stopping them altogether.
The Sunday Nation, however, gathered that what seems to have worked against the DP is the fact that the President’s men too accuse him of defying the Head of State’s order, sometime back, to halt early campaigns in the guise of development tours across the country.
Whether honest or not, there is concern in Dr Ruto’s corner that through BBI, ‘indigenous people’ may use it as an excuse to target ‘outsiders’ in cosmopolitan regions.
Narok senator Ledama ole Kina, while speaking in Narok recently, argued that non-Maasais should not be allowed to meddle in the affairs of the community. He would later be arrested on charges of hate speech, before being released shortly after.
Emotive as land matters are in the country, team DP have not wasted an opportunity to demonstrate why BBI rallies are bad for national cohesion. He is on record as saying that such was a bad precedent that could breed ethnic clashes especially in the Rift Valley, with a view to making Mr Kenyatta chicken out.
We established that the BBI secretariat is gravely concerned about it. At a recent stakeholders’ meeting with an ambassador of a western capital, they agreed to work on a risk management strategy on areas that could easily sink the BBI ship.
The DP and his handlers are of the view that the BBI rallies have slowed down his impetus, taking much of the country’s attention and in the process giving Mr Odinga, his fierce rival, undue advantage over him.
All DP’s arsenals are trained on Mr Odinga, who will likely be making the fifth stab at the State House race in 2022. As such, it is urgent to bury the BBI wave early enough, before the 2022 campaigns officially set in next year.
His fears are well-founded. Observers agree that the BBI provides a broad platform that could be hard to beat, especially should it culminate in a successful referendum on the Constitution, as Mr Odinga wants. It would be hard for the DP to stem the momentum created thereafter, they add.
History is replete with such cases. In 2005, after beating the YES (Banana) side, led by incumbent President Mwai Kibaki, a buoyant Odinga led the NO (Orange) team into the 2007 elections that forced a coalition government with Mr Kibaki following a contested election that an inquiry could not establish who won.
In his game plan, the DP has identified the church as a vital cog in countering the rallies. Given that the evangelicals have already voiced their opposition to certain proposals in the BBI report, which seeks to bestow appellate jurisdiction to the Kadhi courts, they see this, among other contentious proposals, as a point from which to rally the church behind their messaging.
In a video clip that was widely circulated last week, a leading cleric is heard urging the faithful to ignore BBI during the sermon, charging that it was the political class that needed it and not the ordinary citizen.
Another grievance by the church is that it has not been fully brought on board and there is apprehension that some offensive clause may be adopted without their input.
Through his generous contributions in church harambees, most are already more comfortable with the DP and would easily cast their lots with him.
Dr Ruto is said to favour a non-contested referendum, if any. And his advisers say he would rather the secretariat or the team chaired by Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji leads the initiative and not his political opponents.
An MP close to Dr Ruto said that allowing the BBI to go through, especially through the referendum route, would force their boss to ‘dig into his pocket twice’.
“Most likely, he would be the focal point in the ‘NO’ side and that would mean bankrolling it. This complicates the math at a time we are also trying to build a formidable war chest for the presidential run,” he said.
The DP’s allies from Nakuru yesterday issued an ultimatum to the organisers of the BBI consultative meeting scheduled for March 21.
Led by Senator Susan Kihika, the politicians have demanded that 2022 politics, which has characterised the previous meetings, must be off the table at Afraha stadium.
Others were Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri, Martha Wangari (Gilgil), Lizza Chelule (Nakuru), Jayne Kihara (Naivasha), Joseph Tonui (Kuresoi South) and Kinuthia Gachobe (Subukia).
The MPs told the political leaders that will come for the meeting to be measured in their speeches, saying Nakuru is a cosmopolitan county and any divisive remarks may lead to disruption of peace that the region has enjoyed for years.
“We have no problem with the meeting, it will be peaceful as Nakuru is the epicentre of peace but let the meeting discuss the issues of the people and not politics,” Mr Ngunjiri said.
Ms Kihika said they will not allow anyone to make inciting remarks that might end up destabilising peace in the county.
“You should come as invited guests but do not come to dictate to the people of Nakuru on what they should do,” Ms Kihika said.
Additional reporting by Samwel Owino